The Post-Exams TBR List

May 31st. If I had an old-school wall calendar, that date would be circled in bright red felt tip. Sadly, it features only as a slightly feeble entry in my Google Calendar. Not quite so evocative. May 31st, since you ask (you didn’t, but never mind) will be my first full day of freedom from everything University related – lectures, supervisions, seminars, essays, my dissertation, and exams. I fully intend to spend it encased in a social media-free bubble, reading to my heart’s content. May 30th is my last examination date, but I presume I’ll either be too passed out from mental exhaustion or from post-exam bubbles (as it’s the tradition at Cambridge to mercilessly spray finalists after the last exam with cheap bottles of cava) to do anything remotely resembling reading.

Recreational reading doesn’t look to be on the cards at all, in fact, until that hallowed date. Yes, I started this blog at a silly time…

Without further ado, I wanted to share the five books that I’m most eagerly anticipating reading once I’m free.

1) The Three (Sarah Lotz)
So first up, we have The Three. I’ve been excited about this ever since I saw Hodder’s Twitter posts announcing it a few months ago, but then a couple of days ago they released a sampler of the novel as a free Kindle ebook via Amazon. I’m now approximately one thousand times more ramped up about The Three than previously, and I’m almost glad that I have revision and exams to plug the gap between now and the release date on May 22nd. The premise is that four planes crash more or less simultaneously around the world, but three children miraculously survive, seemingly unscathed. The free sampler doesn’t confirm exactly what role these children are going to play, but my guess is that they’re extremely dangerous. And creepy. Promising stuff.

2) Dust (Hugh Howey)
So I said that I probably won’t have time to do any fun reading in this peak finals period. But let’s be honest here. I bought Shift, the second instalment of the Wool trilogy, in a moment of weakness at Forbidden Planet last week, and I really doubt I’ll get through the next month without reading it during my breaks. I’ve written about how much I enjoyed Wool, which I devoured in one day flat. So I’m really looking forward to cracking open Dust and escaping from thoughts about results (ack) into a subterranean world racked by poisoned air and terrible secrets.

3) On Beauty (Zadie Smith)
I found a hardback copy of On Beauty in the secondhand section of Heffers in Cambridge last term. It was like discovering buried treasure. On Beauty is the second hardback that’s been on my TBR list that I’ve picked up there for £2, the first being Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World. I like how Smith often roots her narratives in northwest London, particularly the borough of Brent, where I’ve grown up, and I loved reading White Teeth, so I have high expectations regarding On Beauty!

4) The Sign of Four (Arthur Conan Doyle)
I finally started reading the Sherlock Holmes series in Michaelmas term. I’m a late bloomer, I know. I think I read The Hound of the Baskervilles in primary school, but it’s all a bit hazy now. Anyway. The Study In Scarlet was not at all what I expected, having followed the slick Sherlock BBC adaptation and the Sherlock Holmes Robert Downey Jr. movies religiously. Slick and fast-paced it may not be, but I enjoyed what I read, particularly the Mormon side plot. I’ve heard that The Sign of Four is even better than its predecessor. *Rubs hands gleefully*

5) Sandman Volume V: A Game of You (Neil Gaiman)
I love the Sandman series, and I reckon I’ve been pretty restrained in reading them really. Let’s compare: I read the entirety of The Walking Dead (published so far, that is) in the space of about a week, but it was like binge-eating. Albeit binge-eating zombies, as opposed to eating a nice pack of Doritos too quickly. Anyway, with Sandman I’ve been buying the series one volume at a time and allowing myself one day to savour each, which always feels so much more virtuous.

Other books currently vying for attention on my gigantic TBR list: The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemingway), The Girl With All The Gifts (M.R. Carey), Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (Robin Sloan), It (Stephen King), Lexicon (Max Barry).

May 31st cannot come soon enough.

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Review: Wool

Hugh Howey - Wool

Title: Wool
Author: Hugh Howey
Publisher: Arrow Books
Year originally published: 2013

Wool was my prize from a treasure hunt around London, the result of piecing together and deciphering clues hidden in galleries, churches and museums, all set up by my decidedly superior bibliophile friend Emily. After hours of roving around the city, I found Emily in the café in Foyles, and was presented with a £10 book token. Of course, I had to spend it right there and then. I raced through the bookshop and immediately racked up a giant pile of new discoveries as well as items from my TBR list. Studying blurbs wildly, I picked up Wool. Did it measure up to the dystopian list I had in my head? A ruined and hostile landscape. Check. A future few have been unlucky to survive. Check. A community in a giant underground silo. Oooh, check. The next Hunger Games. Right, where’s the checkout?

The unlucky few are the people we’re locked up in the silo with, and on the whole they’re a likeable bunch. That is, until the dire truth about their living situation begins to emerge. Yet in the face of this gut-wrenchingly awful news, some remain admirably steadfast. I was impressed with Howey’s choice of protagonist, Jules. Yes, she fits into the YA/dystopian romance paradigm of gutsy-yet-beautiful heroine dominant in trilogies like The Hunger GamesDivergent, Matched and Delirium, but Jules stands out from that pack for one reason: She’s not an adolescent. It’s hugely refreshing to see Howey subverting the cult of youth to pick a 34-year old heroine who happens to have a bit of a crush on a 25-year old. And what? Age does not matter in the silo, and neither should it matter in our world. Which leads me to a little bugbear I have against most dystopian YA: Reading about seventeen-year old girls saving the world can only inspire me to a certain point. As a twenty-something female about to enter the non-academic world of work, I want to read about real women with years of experience, heartbreak and loss under their belts, taking on positions of leadership and doing a damn good job of it.

Naturally, I must now get my hands on Shift and Dust, having enjoyed Wool so much. Joyously, Howey decided to release the trilogy over the course of 2013, instead of tortuously drawing out the process of waiting for each installment, A Song of Ice and Fire style (c’mon, George R.R. Martin, where’s The Winds of Winter?) I can only hope they don’t suffer from what I like to call ‘trilogy syndrome’: the second book, the ‘filler’, provides background information to the events of the first book and essentially provides a fictional bridge between the action of the first and third installments’; the third book supplies us with a narrative dénouement, while resolving a love triangle of which we’d already guessed the outcome, way back in book one. In my experience, the second and third books are inevitably doomed to be weaker in terms of both plot and writing, which is saddening. But trilogy syndrome be damned. Wool was so engaging that my real problem at the moment is whether to do some work on my dissertation or read the next two books over the weekend…

My verdict: 5/5
I devoured Wool in a single day. It’s one of those books that’ll make you almost miss your train stop, that’ll be sitting open on your knees as you shovel your lunch into your mouth, that you’ll burn the midnight oil with, disregarding all sense of a proper bedtime. I wasn’t a social or functional human being in the one day that I sacrificed for Wool, and I don’t mind one bit. Yet losing myself in a book so completely did have slightly tunnel-vision repercussions – it wasn’t until my boyfriend was asking about the significance of the title that I finally got it. Wool refers to the wool of the cleaners, but also the wool that’s been pulled over the silo inhabitants’ eyes. Genius.